Go directly to jail

. November 19, 2019.
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Do not pass go, do not collect two hundred dollars

Twenty twenty is hard upon us, and with it, a rare changing of the guard. Literally.

In case you have been under a rock for the past 18 months, twenty twenty is a presidential election year. That means Ohio has a primary election in March. And that, in turn, means that local candidates for partisan election have to turn in petitions with the requisite number of valid signatures by mid-December to get on the March ballot.

The campaign has already, in effect, begun.

Many of the seats up for election in Lucas County are already filled by entrenched incumbents. Take the LC Clerk of Courts. Incumbent Bernie Quilter is up for re-election, and is pretty much unbeatable in his position. No one in their right mind would take him on. He might yet have an opponent, but it won’t be someone in their right mind.

A new sheriff in town

There is one exception this year, one seat that will be open, with the incumbent retiring and fervent wannabes licking their chops to run.

As detailed previously in this column, Sheriff John Tharp is retiring and will not seek re-election in twenty twenty. Given the Dem-leaning nature of Lucas County, the race to be his replacement will be effectively determined by the Democratic Primary in March.

The fields to replace Tharp is expected to be crowded, from both parties. Ron Collins and Earl Mack have already begun placing signs at prominent intersections in the county. Toledo Councilman Gary Johnson and Oregon Police Chief Mike Navarre are also making noises about running. Rumors abound about other candidates, who are positioning themselves for support among the county’s kingmakers.

Replacing Tharp will be an interesting proposition. He became Sheriff by replacing long-time predecessor James Telb. Tharp took office with a lot of work to do. The Sheriff’s Department was not held in high regard. Inmates at the county jail were dying in custody. Alleged crimes were committed in the jail, with guards as the alleged (and sometimes convicted) perpetrators. Morale in the department was low.

Tharp has done an admirable job improving the department’s image. He has raised and championed the issue of opioid addiction as a regional crisis.

He has increased support for drug addiction recovery services. He created a cooperative policing arrangement with the City of Toledo to patrol downtown.

Into the quagmire

His successor will be tasked with continuing Tharp’s initiatives. That part should be easy. But Tharp will likely leave his successor with one potentially career-ending quagmire. The location of the Lucas County Jail.

The fight over the replacement jail’s location has died down lately. Not too long ago, the County fumbled its way through several possible locations before settling on its preferred spot.

Every location was fraught with problems. The Angola Road site was met by public outcry from the surrounding neighborhood until it was dropped. The City tow lot site floundered because the City and County couldn’t negotiate their criminal justice disagreements.

One last preferred site, one more outraged neighborhood. The north Toledo site was met by a referendum that changed the City Charter to “keep the jail downtown.” County leaders, most notably Commish Pete Gerken, retorted that the City Charter can’t dictate a County decision.

Since then, the fate of a new jail has been met with radio silence. Everyone knows a replacement is necessary. No one wants to talk about where that replacement will be built. The turmoil over the jail is simmering just beneath the surface, ready to return to a boil. Should the County decide to go directly against the expressed will of Toledo voters, let the fireworks begin.

As the race to replace Tharp heats up, there will be several questions for the candidates about public safety. Opioids, gun violence, domestic violence, and other local scourges must be addressed.

But there is one specific question we must pose to each of the many LC Sheriff wannabes. This is the tough one, the make or break. Where and when will the new LC jail be built? Good luck with your answer.